Warren McCrickard may be relatively new to the boating industry, but he has made a name for himself as a voice in government relations and with his work with industry associations.
McCrickard joined Dalton, Ga.-based Infinity Woven Products in 2014 as director of marketing and communications. He became vice president of corporate sales two years ago and today manages marketing and business development for all of parent company Twitchell’s brands.
McCrickard is a 2003 graduate of Milligan College in Tennessee, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in communications. He spent seven years in the film industry in Los Angeles, working in the international servicing departments for DreamWorks, Paramount and Summit Entertainment.
McCrickard, who turns 36 in August, helped position Infinity as a luxury supplier of woven flooring for boats and other products. “We felt that if we educated the consumer on the product they were seeing on boats, they could then ask for it by name,” McCrickard says.
Sales have increased, and the company is growing as it enters its 10th year.
Q: How did you help change the marketing direction and rebranding of Infinity?
A: When I started at Infinity, we saw ourselves as a flooring company servicing the marine industry. While many builders were choosing woven vinyl flooring, there were no name brands known to consumers. We made a strategic decision to change our branding, develop luxury advertisements and invest in consumer marketing, which provided significant brand equity and drove sales upward. Further, we shifted from servicing the industry to being a true marine supplier. We dove headfirst into association memberships, sponsored events, and attended trade shows and conferences.
Q: How did Infinity position itself as a luxury brand?
A: When we rebranded in 2015, we did a great deal of research into the look of a luxury brand, from fonts to brand colors to ad presentation. We determined that while most people would know us as Infinity, our logo should include the product descriptor “luxury woven vinyl.” We wanted to redefine the word “luxury,” placing the definition in the hands of the consumer. What I consider luxury may differ from another, so Infinity is restating our value proposition and ensuring the customer knows that no matter how they define luxury, our product suits the experience.
Q: What’s Infinity’s strategy moving forward?
A: Infinity was purchased by Twitchell Technical Products in 2016, helping our product lines become more vertical. While part of a larger family of companies, we still work in a much more family-rooted, independently minded way. We like being scrappy. It allows us to be flexible to the demands of our customers and address the consumer in a more agile, forward-thinking way. We try to keep the word “no” out of our vocabulary. Instead, we see our customers as partners and seek ways to develop new product designs and performance characteristics that help us both stand out.
Q: Is Infinity feeling the effects of the escalating trade war?
A: We are a U.S.-manufactured product, and that has helped mitigate some of the immediate effects of the current tariffs. With that said, being a supplier to the industry, a byproduct of the tariffs on builders is the effect to the supply chain. Flooring, especially woven vinyl, has become essential to the look and personality of the boat. As the industry is affected, so too will we be affected. As a supplier to the marine industry, we rely on boats being built.
Q: Tell us about your work with millennial groups.
A: In 2015, I was looking for ways to become more involved in the industry, and Anne Dunbar had just started the Marine Millennials group as part of IBEX. I helped organize a few speakers at the show that year, and within the following months I was asked to become a co-chair. Since then, along with many others, most notably co-chair Rachel Harmon, we have expanded the networking events to incorporate METS, the American Boating Congress and the Miami International Boat Show. We also have a closed Facebook group and e-blast newsletter to allow for more immediate interaction.
Q: How do those connections help?
A: Many of us work within one area of the industry. These gatherings of young professionals allow the opportunity to gain insight into the various sectors of the industry: builder, dealer, engine, supply chain, accessories. No matter the area of expertise, one can learn from top talent in the other areas on how the industry is doing, as well as seeing upcoming trends. It is also a space to share ideas and create partnerships.
Q: You’re also involved in the American Boating Congress and government relations. What do you see as important in that area?
A: Two key reasons I think attending ABC is important: You gain firsthand knowledge of legislative matters that affect our industry, along with the education and resources to be better informed and effectively engage the democratic process. Second, especially as a young professional, you are able to network with industry leaders in a more intimate, involved way.
Q: How would you like to see the industry evolve?
A: From a sales perspective, younger generations are willing to buy — but not before they try. Airbnb and VRBO have fast-forwarded the ability for consumers to gain the experience without the long-term investment. Likely what Boatsetter, Freedom Boat Club, Carefree and others offer will become the expectation. Once the consumer has learned what they like, the long-term investment will likely be on the upper end of the spectrum. The conversation on how this changes our industry is already taking place.
From a human perspective, diversification within leadership is a space where we can quickly become a spotlight industry. We already have some dynamic women leaders across sectors of the industry. From a manufacturing end, robotics will likely play a greater role as we progress forward. Upfront capital can be limiting to the pace of this advancement.
Q: How might the use of robotics in marine manufacturing unfold?
A: As the industry continues to consolidate and brands are purchased to be companions to other recreational offerings — like Winnebago’s purchase of Chris-Craft, Polaris buying Bennington, BRP buying Alumacraft — the use of advanced technology and robotics in other industries, such as automotive, may find its way into the marine industry.
Q: What do you see as the biggest industry challenge?
A:Workforce development. I believe the industry can become more creative in solving the current crises while we seek to find ways to build the pipeline through middle- and high-school programming, as well as apprenticeships.
Q: Has Infinity had a difficult time filling positions?
A: Infinity, like most of the industry, has also struggled with workforce development. General unskilled labor is the hardest to fill. Where we are based is known as the carpet capital of the world, so there is a great deal of competition for labor, but even so, finding committed personnel can be a challenge. Big guys can pay a little more than we can, being a smaller company. There’s a skilled set of people, a generation of people that have moved on, and there’s a gap right now.
It’s not like you can’t fill the positions; it’s retention. You can get people to say they want a job, but are they going to be there two, three weeks later? It seems with the economy the way it is, it’s almost like people accept a job to try it out, not to commit to it.
Q: What are possible workforce solutions?
AImmigration is a way you could probably fill the workforce. To me, it’s not a political statement; it’s a workforce statement. We can’t just wait on middle- and high-school kids to come out when we have a lack of positions now. If the workforce can be filled by displaced people, maybe we could find a way to implement a program to get them to work.
For Infinity’s part, we participate in job fairs and plan on taking part in Manufacturing Day this October. We recently brought on a specific human resources lead as well, to help in bettering our recruitment efforts.
Q: Infinity brought in a person specifically to help with recruitment?
A: For us, being a smaller company, it got to the point where we needed better focus, someone who could have their attention on not only hiring and firing, but retention, and come up with thoughtful ways to do that. This helps us stay up with the bigger guys in town.
Q: You’ve said that bringing younger people into the industry can increase employees, as well as boaters.
A: I believe people want to see people they can identify with. At Infinity, we consider the audience when we place advertisements. We may change the look or copy of the ad to be more relatable to the audience. The industry can do the same by publicly highlighting dynamic young professionals across the spectrum of market sectors, geographic regions and skill sets to showcase the talent already present, attracting those from the outside who want to be a part of our industry movement. Once you’re in the industry, the water is contagious. One cannot help but pay more attention to boating conversations and want to be actually on the water.
Q: How can the industry draw more people to boating?
A: It is on us, within the industry, to advertise on behalf of the diverse boating public, across all measures, including race, gender, orientation, age range, geographic location, et cetera. Infinity did so as part of our 10-year anniversary anthem video. For our marine ad, we specifically wanted to be an active participant in celebrating the industry’s already active push to celebrate diversity.
This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue.